The role and performance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents

Letter from Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, Ofsted, dated 8 February 2011

12 JANUARY 2011

I was pleased to have the opportunity to appear before the Committee recently to give evidence as part of the inquiry into Ofsted's role and performance. This scrutiny is a key accountability mechanism for Ofsted, and I welcome the chance to respond to questions and present our evidence.

During the proceedings you asked about Finland's system of accountability for schools. I attach a briefing note we have prepared, and I hope you find the information useful.


Factors that have been identified as contributing to Finland's successful educational outcomes also inform its system of accountability. These include Finland's much smaller and less culturally diverse population: at five million, it is considerably smaller than England's school population. The teaching profession has high status and commands respect from parents, pupils and society more widely. The career of teaching is sought after with only about 10% of applicants being successful in gaining places to train as a teacher. Teachers are well qualified, generally studying for five years to gain Masters degrees.

Prior to the 1990s, school inspections were undertaken by the provincial governments in Finland. In the 1990s a decentralised approach was encouraged where standards set out nationally became more open to local flexibility. At the same time nationally administered school inspections ceased. However, at a regional level the state provincial offices conduct, under the supervision of the Ministry of Education, annual evaluations of the availability and quality of basic educational services.

In 1999, the Finnish government made evaluation statutory in all sectors of education. This obliged providers to evaluate the effectiveness of the education they offer and to participate in external evaluations of its activities. However, there is no detailed national prescription of how self-evaluation should be undertaken.

Working as an expert network, the Finnish Education Evaluation Council was established in 2003 to contribute to the development of national external evaluations. Its remit covers all phases of education except for higher education. The Education Evaluation Council is made up of providers, educational institutes, educational administration, teacher and student organisations, and stakeholder groups. It also includes experts in educational evaluation and evaluation research. One of the Council's roles is to give support to providers in educational evaluation.

The tasks of the Education Evaluation Council are to:

  • assist the Ministry of Education and to support education providers in matters concerning educational evaluation;
  • plan for external educational evaluation in accordance with the guidelines and financial resources set by the Ministry of Education; and
  • formulate proposals for the development of educational evaluation and to promote educational evaluation research and co-operation.

Key principles underpinning the evaluation work of the Council include the importance of an independent body overseeing national evaluation and ensuring that:

  • the people with the right expertise undertake the evaluation;
  • evaluations are aligned to work undertaken by other evaluation bodies in order to minimise duplication;
  • school or provider self-evaluation is incorporated into national evaluations; and
  • evaluation is developmental and promotes improvement.

The types of evaluation administered by the Education Evaluation Council include:

  • Evaluation of learning outcomes. There are no universal national assessment tests in Finland except for the matriculation examinations at the end of upper secondary education. However, the Council administers national subject assessments on a sampling basis. The sample is chosen to be representative of providers and learners. If selected, schools and providers are obliged to take part. These assessments focus on previously publicised themes which have been identified nationally. The assessments are marked by teachers, although a sample is marked externally for quality assurance purposes. Recent themes have included a longitudinal assessment of mathematics, mother tongue and literature. Following the assessments, a national report is published, and individual schools are sent their own results. However, no national ranking is produced and schools are not normally publically identified.
  • System evaluation. This is targeted at an entire educational sector, such as basic education or a particular form of provider. Recent focus has included topics such as "Regional effectiveness and the role of education" and "Young people's selection and choices for vocational education, academic performance and dropping out".
  • Situation evaluation. This provides information about the functioning of the whole or part of the education system. It can also focus on ongoing education policy and its implementation. Recent evaluation themes have included "The state of basic education" and "Teachers qualification in Swedish speaking education".
  • Thematic evaluation. This type of evaluation considers a particular aspect, such as a specific school subject or curricular content area. This includes topics such as "Basic education in the arts" and "Learning in the workplace".

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Prepared 17 April 2011